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Plenty on the line for Norcross-Collins Hill showdown

Collins Hill's Tyler Henderson (5) gets by a Peachtree Ridge defender during the game last week.

Collins Hill's Tyler Henderson (5) gets by a Peachtree Ridge defender during the game last week.

NORCROSS AT COLLINS HILL

Norcross Blue Devils (7-AAAAAA)

Coach: Keith Maloof

Record: 6-0, 4-0 region

Last week: Beat Habersham Central 55-0

Collins Hill Eagles (7-AAAAAA)

Coach: Kevin Reach

Record: 4-1, 3-0 region

Last week: Beat Peachtree Ridge 41-10

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Norcross won 42-21 last year

Directions to Collins Hill High School: From I-85, go east on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and take a left on Taylor Road. School is on the right.

With a victory Friday, Norcross' path to the Region 7-AAAAAA football title would open up considerably.

Host Collins Hill is the biggest hurdle left among the region's top playoff contenders for the third-ranked Blue Devils, whose next three opponents -- Mountain View, Peachtree Ridge and Meadowcreek -- have at least two region losses each.

Norcross already has victories over the rest of the teams higher in the standings, most importantly defending region champion North Gwinnett and Mill Creek.

"Obviously (a win over Collins Hill) would separate us from the pack a little bit," Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said. "But there's still a lot of work to be done."

The hardest work may come in Suwanee, where host Collins Hill is the only other 7-AAAAAA team with a perfect region record. With a win, the Eagles (4-1, 3-0) could take over first place in the region from Norcross (6-0, 4-0) for the moment. Their schedule gets tougher beginning this week with matchups left against North, Mill Creek and Duluth.

Collins Hill, which has lost five of the last six meetings with Norcross, brings the momentum of a four-game winning streak into this week's game.

"We're excited about the game," Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach said. "Watching them on film, they're the best team we've played this year. They've got some great athletes like the (Alvin) Kamara kid, the (Myles) Autry kid. But our kids are ready. They're excited about the opportunity."

Since a season-opening loss to Central Gwinnett, Collins Hill and its high-powered offense has been on a roll. The Eagles have scored 52, 40 and 41 in their first three region games, and last Friday's 41-10 win over Peachtree Ridge got Maloof's attention.

Quarterback Brett Sheehan had another big game in that win, while playmakers like Julian Williams and Tyler Henderson also stood out.

"They're explosive on offense," Maloof said of Collins Hill. "They were up, what, 14-10, at the half and then all of a sudden it's 41-10. Their quarterback's really good. They like what they're doing and we've got to play really well on defense against them."

Collins Hill faces a Norcross defense that has been stifling for most of the season, at least until Mill Creek pushed the Blue Devils to the limit in the second half of a 49-41 win on Sept. 28.

"We've got a lot of improvements to make on defense," Maloof said. "We're still a work in progress. ... We knew we could be good. It's just a matter of getting better every week."

Outside of the Mill Creek, Norcross has blanked Region 8-AAAAAA leader Parkview 20-0 and completely shut down Duluth (36-7 thanks to a late score) and Habersham Central (55-0).

"They fly around to the ball and they're hard to block up front," Reach said of Norcross' defense. "They don't have a weak spot on their defense."

These two teams played an interesting game a year ago.

Collins Hill got off to a great start, building an early 21-6 lead that Norcross closed to 21-13 by halftime. The Blue Devils kept charging in the second half and won 42-21.

"We came out early and played well last year," Reach said. "We were up and then they put up 42 points before we knew what hit us. That's the thing about them. They can score at any time."